Change the Media, Change the World: The National Conference on Media Reform

Change the Media, Change the World:  The National Conference on Media Reform

Impressions and Comments
by Sue Ann Martinson

What happens when 2500 media mavens who are organizers, techies, professors, students, high school teachers, activists, citizen journalists, and media advocates of all stripes get together?  That’s what happened the weekend of April 8-10, 2011 in Boston, and the networking, conversations, and exchange of ideas of people from coast to coast was fierce, carried on in the midst of sharing information about the media through workshops and talks.

I’ll start with Amy Goodman, whom you all know.  I have never heard her speak so passionately.  She said, “from global warming to global warring, we need the independent media.”  Her most recent example was Tahrir Square, when “Democracy Now!” reporter Sharif Abdel Kouddous was able to send twitters via his phone to Jeremy Scahill direct from the heart of Tahrir Square because he is Egyptian and could blend in, as well as speak the language, while other reporters broadcast from “undisclosed locations” in fear.  And from Sharif came the stories of the people, not just voiceover with a picture of the Square shot from a distance and the pundits giving their interpretation of what was happening.

For three days I absorbed information and networked with others.  Who else was there?  U. S. Representatives Nancy Pelosi (House Democratic Leader), Mike Doyle (Pittsburgh), Edward Markey (Boston), Donna Edwards (Maryland), and Senator Bernie Sanders, (Vermont) who could not make it because of the budget crisis, but sent a video so we could hear his powerful statement.  And those were just the politicians.

During Pelosi’s short speech some young men in the back started to chant, “End War.”  And they were NOT escorted out the door by security, unlike in other places we know of where public officials are speaking!  I immediately passed out some WAMM End War stickers that I had with me. Then Laura Flanders (GritTV), who was the MC, stepped up to the podium and said, “Let’s end all wars!”  I continued to hand out the End War stickers during the conference, putting about 400 into the hands of attendees; they were very popular.

I will be posting more  information and videos of speakers and workshops at this conference on WAMMToday over the next month or so, to spread them out to be absorbed more easily.  I could not attend them all, of course, because there were concurrent sessions.  I would have liked, for example, to attend the workshops on women and the media.  But I would say that I perceived a four-pronged approach:  media analysis, media justice, media advocacy and media reform. They were informative and illuminating workshops about what media is, how to do media reform, hands on, here is what we did, and what do we do now.

If I were to choose two major messages from the National Conference on Media Reform (NCMR), for the first I would quote FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who said, “No matter what your first issue is, media reform needs to be your second issue.”  We all need to work on media reform as an adjunct to our primary issues.

The second message starts with a premise we all know, the right-wing (and sometimes wing-nut) control of the mainstream media.  The theme of this conference is “Change the Media, Change the World.”  So while independent media’s drum was beat loudly and often and was well represented by so many wonderful independent media organizations, journalists, broadcasters and citizen journalists, another message had added emphasis this year:  It is time to take back our media and take back our democracy.

A little background:  Robert W. McChesney, media scholar, and John Nichols, now at The Nation, are the co-founders and anchors of Free Press and NCMR, that is, they are the media glue.  But the person who pulled it all together for them is Josh Silver, outgoing president and CEO of Free Press. (The Chief Operating Officer, is, of course, a woman, Kimberly Longey.)

As I came to the conference, being somewhat familiar with Josh Silver’s role, I wondered why he was moving on, especially after the many victories in Congress—success by Free Press.  Silver is stepping up to a new role.  He told us he is going after the corporations, especially the large conglomerates that control the media.  Yes, I know some organizations are working on this issue from multiple angles, and, of course, I hear a lot of grousing and grumbling, and do some myself, about the stranglehold the corporations have on this fair country of ours.

The press release from Free Press says:  “Silver is departing Free Press to become founding CEO of The Democracy Fund, a new operating foundation that will challenge the influence of corporate lobbyists over government policymaking,”  a considerable and necessary charge. I hope to be able to tell you more about how to get involved in the near future.

John Nichols, who gave the closing talk, had this suggestion for when a right-wing person tells you they don’t want Big Government to control their lives, you say, “You don’t want your life controlled by Big Media either!”

Nichols also talked about the human stories of forgotten workers in America.  His example was a woman he marched with in his hometown in Wisconsin.  She does humane and necessary work taking care of disturbed teenagers in a home for them.  Yes, she gets paid (not much) but she told him that is not why she does it.  She does this work because she cares about these children, and someone has to care for them.  These are the dedicated workers of America who are suffering today:  teachers, social workers and social services workers, those building our infrastucture, and all.  You know who they are, you know who you are, in a country that is of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations instead of the people (and by the people and for the people).

Nichols was full of powerful and motivating quotations.  One was from F.D. Roosevelt, who, when asked about reform of an unjust system, said “Make me do it.”  We need to make the corporations reform themselves. We need to make Congress responsible to us, the people of America, not to corporate power, and the president the same.

Finally, Nichols quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. and asked us all to “help bend the arc of American history toward justice.”  A tall order, since we have to bend it back quite a way as it has already arc-ed the opposite direction.  Until we have real debate with fully informed Americans across the political spectrum, until we have media reform that makes that possible, we will not have a true democracy.

A list of programs I attended:

Democracy Now! Live Broadcast from Boston

Following the Money: Journalism and the Economic Crisis

Film:  Broadcast Blues

Caucus: Chicago Media Action

The FCC at NCMR: A National Town Hall

Opening Plenary: Better Media Starts Here

Film:  Barbershop Punk

Sandbox: Making Media with Your Mobile Phone

Egypt, Afghanistan and Beyond: Independent Journalism and the International Crisis

Changing the Narrative: Fighting Hate, Misinformation and Dehumanization in the Media

News for All:  The Epic Story of Race and the American Media

Media Literacy for Mobilization: Popular Education Tools for Digital Justice

Closing Plenary: Taking It Home

Each workshop had several panel members and the plenaries and the keynote had several speakers at each.

These are just the programs/panels I was able to attend, although I attended one in each time segment.  There were many more concurrent workshops I was unable to attend.

I was also able to gather signatures for the statement of solidarity for the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (StopFBI.net) for those antiwar activists who have been targeted by the FBI and I passed out a number of flyers as well.  Some at the conference knew about the grand jury subpoenas of antiwar activists, some did not. There were many sympathetic ears.

Besides the WAMMToday blog, you can find the talks and workshops with Robert W. McChesney, Amy Goodman, Michael Copps, Juan González,  John Nichols, Lawrence Lessig. Anya and Joseph Stiglitz, and a host of other media luminaries and citizen journalists and organizations on media analysis, media justice, media advocacy and media reform on FreeSpeechTV.org, the Uptake.org, or on YouTube.   Every talk and workshop was audio or video-recorded and can be found by clicking on the schedule and the program or workshop of interest at http://www.conference.freepress.net.

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